To create a decline in demand for air travel and other climate-damaging products, it is necessary to limit advertising. This is the conclusion of the Dutch research institution TNO in a new and groundbreaking exploration of consumption change to combat climate disruption.

TNO - an independent research organisation - is one of the main advisors of the Dutch government.

Climate policy that focuses on technology and efficiency is not enough to achieve the climate goals on time. It is also necessary to consume “differently or less” en masse. A declining demand for climate-damaging products and services requires system changes, such as limiting climate-damaging advertising. This is stated in the TNO study by Geerte Paradies and Ruud van den Brink Consuming differently to achieve climate goals, which was published on 9 March 2023. TNO itself took the initiative for this study.

Great demand reduction potential

The independent research agency writes that the potential of measures to reduce demand is very high, according to the IPCC. “It can reduce 40 to 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.” On the basis of recent literature, TNO identifies in the exploration “points of action for domino effects” as a result of which the demand for climate-damaging products is decreasing more and more rapidly and a “social tipping point” can arise. TNO also identifies “obstacles” that keep the demand for these harmful products high. According to TNO, climate-damaging advertising, for example for flying and the fossil industry, constitutes an obstacle to reducing consumption in several ways.

Advertising as a climate barrier

TNO mentions the negative effects of advertising several times. Advertising tempts to consume more. Advertising spreads the story – which is now “deeply embedded” in our society – that certain products make you happier. And advertising makes it difficult for people to take the step to consume less. It also appears that people shrug off responsibility when they are confronted with flying advertisements. TNO also mentions that 'stakeholders' who have a lot to gain from the current system use advertisements to safeguard their interests. TNO also mentions research showing that the media pay more attention to climate change and that the fossil fuel industry invests more money in advertisements.

Limit climate-damaging advertising

TNO therefore recommends on page 32 that policymakers limit climate-damaging advertising “just as happened with tobacco”. The authors refer to the success of the “comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising and promotion.” That led to a “7.4% drop in tobacco consumption,” according to a study in 22 countries. A similar ban on advertising by the fossil industry, air travel and cruises and petrol and diesel cars requires good enforcement, warns TNO. “Because a total ban on advertising must take into account the shift from explicit advertising to hidden advertising, for example via celebrities and product placement in series and films.”

Information is not enough

The government is currently stimulating consumption change mainly through information that calls on individuals to reduce their personal CO2 footprint themselves. But according to TNO, these types of interventions “do not lead, or only very limitedly, to behavioral change and a reduction in personal CO2 emissions.” About the government's information campaign 'Everyone does something', the report states: “the reach is limited.” TNO writes that attempts have been made to induce individuals to change consumption behaviour, but “there are not many successful examples.”

Response Advertising Fossil free

“This exploration by TNO, based on scientific research, underlines the need for a ban on fossil advertising. The minister cannot ignore this report. We expect the minister to include this exploration in the planned session with behavioral experts on fossil advertising. And that he then hastens with this logical, intuitive and effective measure, for which there is already ample scientific evidence. The IPCC report this week has once again made it clear that we must not lose any time.”

Other notable policy recommendations

In addition to limiting climate-damaging advertising, other notable recommendations to policymakers to achieve 40-70% emission reductions through consumption reduction were:

  • a progressive carbon tax,
  • investing in leisure activities as a climate-friendly alternative to consumption (sports fields, parks, libraries),
  • use of role models and communication strategies to create forerunners,
  • citizen participation (in which nature and future generations also have a voice)
  • paradigm shift (alternatives to 'green growth paradigm', such as the donut economy, degrowth or a-growth) and other parameters to guide policy, such as broad welfare.